Writing is amazing.
At its best, it’s like a form of telepathy, conveying ideas directly from one mind to another. With it, we can generate emotions in others, create worlds just as real as Swaziland is to your average Minnesotan, Kazakhstan is to your average Alabaman, or Detroit is to your run-of-the-mill Queenslander. With words we can draw pictures for the blind, and create sounds for the deaf. We can travel the universe without ever leaving our comfy little house in the woods. We can have conversations with the dead and the never-born.
On the other hand, we can also devise a million terrible hells, feel pain and heartbreak and despair. Because at its worst, writing can be a kind of psychic assault, putting thoughts and feelings in our minds we never wanted and must fight to evict. It can bend minds to madness, lead entire nations into horror.
Writing is amazing and terrible, but what it never was and never will be is magic.
There is a … thing … that happens in the writing community. Specifically, among the aspiring – those who want to be writers. It begins as admiration. The love of reading, and eventually of writing, becomes adoration. Often, a few select writers become the focus of that adoration. And then adoration becomes deification, and praise and admiration becomes almost worshipful. And then things get weird.
Understand that writing and writers aren’t the only things this happens to. There is a fandom out there for just about anything you can think of. Sports, music, art, cookery, cheese, automobiles… as many things as there are in the world, there are going to be fan(atic)s devoted to every one of them. I have no problem with that. Enthusiasm is a good thing. Enthusiasm about something I enjoy doing and wouldn’t mind doing some day for money is a GREAT thing!
Where it becomes a problem, in my mind, is when those aspiring writers, elbow-deep in ink and toil, look up at those they admire and see not an achievement so much as an artistic godhead. They look at Bukowski or Pahlaniuk or Diaz or Vonnegut and see a divine being imbued with powers beyond mortal ken. They look around them at ‘real writers’ and seem to regard them as a sort of anointed clergy, a priesthood of language and the written word, initiates in the high mysteries of plot, theme and metaphor. They look at these folks and think: ‘I’m not a real writer.’
And that’s where I start to get grouchy.
Writing is not magic. Writers are not divine beings, or at least no more than each of us is a divine being. Language is the birthright of all of humanity. Writing is a skill that not only -can- be learned, but -must- be learned. Writers are not gods or mystics, they are craftsmen and craftswomen who must hone their craft through study and practice and practice and study.
This is not to say that some writers aren’t better than others. Some are. For some people, words just make sense. Just like some blacksmiths, or airplane mechanics, or carpenters or bricklayers. But just because you’re a bricklayer to whom the mortar does not speak does not make you any less ‘real’ a bricklayer. Just because writing came hard to you, and only after trials and toil, does not make you less legitimately a writer.
If you write, you are a writer. Own it. Welcome to the club, and whatever you do…
It’s been a while. Again. (Is this the way it’s going to go? Write an ‘Oh, yeah – I should update this thing more often’ post, then wander off for a few… MONTHS? … No. No it’s not. I don’t think. Well, maybe. But no. I’m -totally- not going to do that. Again. Seriously, this time. Probably.)
I’ve started running. That is, I’m not running AT THE MOMENT. But more, in general. Three times a week, sometimes four. I run 3 and a half to 4 and a half miles at a time. I run pretty fast, for a guy my size/age/pudding-to-muscle-ratio. And I’ve come to almost, sorta, not-exactly like it, sometimes. I have apps to help me. Because, why let something be simple when you can complicate it with technology and doodads and gewgaws and miscellaneous, assorted rigamarole? I have apps that tell me when to run, how long to run. I have apps that tell me how fast I’ve gone, how fast I should be going, how many calories I’ve burned and apps that tell me a story while I run my pudding-ish ass off. Not only that, but then these apps let me SHARE my ‘progress’ with anyone who has the misfortune of being on my Facebook friendslist. The poor saps.
Why did I start running? Well, partly because I was (and still am, though to a lesser degree) kind of a fat bastard. But that’s only part of it. I’ve been a fat bastard for quite some time without it driving me to put on ridiculous clothing and paddle myself around and around the neighborhood for miles and miles. I wasn’t exactly -cool- with being fat, but I’d reached a point of equilibrium between the shame of my fatness and the energy required to correct it.
Then I went on a field trip with my daughter.
It was an overnight field trip to a local camp set up as an environmental education center. The field trip was great – had lots of fun, made new friends of the parents there. But the trip ended with a hike up Goose Rock – a more or less straight climb up the side of a steep hill. And I mean steep.
See, I was partnered with a neighbor of mine who just happens to be a Navy Corpsman. A medic to you non-military types. On the occasion of the hike, Rick (That’s his name, Rick the Corpsman. He has business cards, and t-shirts and things. I had no idea it was such a growth industry.) took the back of our pack of fifth-grade boys, and I took the lead.
Well, I wasn’t in the lead for very long. The boys (or most of them), being small, spry, young, and fit in ways only children can be, raced ahead of me and rapidly disappeared. I gamely pursued, but after about five minutes I got tired. After ten I got scared. Not that the kids were lost, but that I just might have need of Rick’s professional services before I got to the top of that rock.
The safe thing, at that point, probably would have been to stop, sit down, and wait until the tunnel vision and tingling extremities had passed. Of course, I didn’t -DO- that. I may not be the manliest man in the world, but I have enough machismo to make THAT sort of wisdom antithetical to my way of thinking.
Luckily, I made it to the top without medical intervention. But once my eyes had cleared and I could think without the fog of imminent unconsciousness clouding my mind, I was ashamed and embarrassed and afraid in a whole different way. My kids are young. I’m not -that- old, but I’m old enough that there is a very real possibility that, if I don’t take care of myself, I won’t be around to see them get to my age. And I’d very much like to see how they handle their 40s. And 50s and 60s, for that matter.
So I started running. And let me tell you – it was HARD. And not just physically, though that was difficult enough. After a few weeks, the physical hardship became manageable. It was the mental hardship that was difficult to manage. Every time I went out, I’d spend an ungodly amount of my time wrestling with my own mind. Excuses to stop running bubbled up constantly, reasons why running was a terrible idea, why I should just wait until -tomorrow-, just take it easy this one day.
I wrestle with it even now, after three months of regular, successful running. Less, these days. Mostly. But it’s still there. I’m better at pinning it down and shoving it in the corner where it can’t do much harm, but it still mutters away there, and probably always will.
I came to realize something, though: Running is a lot like writing, that way.
It took me all day to get around to writing this entry. Even once I’d started, I deleted and started over half a dozen times.
See, with running, I have apps, technology, my own wheezing, panting fatness to drive me forward, remind me that running is worth doing. There are no apps to tell me to start writing. No technology to tell me that I’m making progress, that what I’m doing is -effective-. There’s just me.
Except that there’s also -you-.
If you’re reading this – Thanks. And if you’re reading this, I’d like to ask you a favor. Keep me honest?
I’ll do my best to keep going, because I want to, because I should, and because it’s a good idea. If you’re reading this, give me a nudge now and then. It won’t go amiss.
Thanks. And you’re welcome. And whatever you do…
Well, so am I! Though I have been a little lax (*COUGHCOUGH*) on the updating front. And clearly I shouldn’t go away for so long – the place falls apart when I’m not around! I log in and the images are all broken, the plug-ins are out of date… What the heck?! It’s 2013! Shouldn’t my website be updating itself by now? And WHERE IS MY FLYING CAR?!
Ahh well, guess I’ll just have to do it myself.
So what have YOU been up to??
There’s a meme going around right now (I got it most recently from George Takei, but there’s another iteration of it here.) that syncs very nicely with thoughts I’ve been having about the kinds of things I read and that I let my kids read.
Very recently I saw a status update from a 10-year-old girl (How a 10-year-old got onto Facebook, let alone onto my friendslist, we can discuss later. Suffice it to say I have no say in the one and have no interest in injuring the child by denying the other.) that said, to wit: Whaaaa – Just finished Breaking Dawn and have nothing to REEEEEEeeeeeaaaaaaad!
Perhaps you have surmised that I did not, precisely, approve. You would be quite right. But, being a generally reasonable man, and at least modestly self-aware, I checked with another friend of mine who has read and does enjoy the Twilight books to see if my apoplexy was even by the thinnest margin justified.
My friend very diplomatically advised me to keep my mouth shut as this child’s reading habits were none of my business. Agreed. But this friend also posed me a question: Why is it any different for you to let your children read Harry Potter than for this other child’s parent to let her read Twilight?
Well, let me tell you.
It’s true that the Harry Potter books handle some rough stuff – especially in the later books. Violence, abandonment, war, terrorism, the failures and deadly flaws of adults… we could go on. Harry’s life is horrible and the horror of it spreads to his friends, classmates, and even his enemies. Harry has moments of despair, he has flaws, doubts. He makes mistakes. He wins and loses. But through it all he responds with admirable character. Not perfect, but admirable. The same goes for his friends. Ron and Hermione each rise to heroic heights, standing by their friend through terror and fear and deadly danger.
When my children read these books — and more importantly, relate to these characters — they are relating to people exhibiting laudable character. They are aspiring to strength and self-reliance, intelligence and wit, loyalty and integrity. When they pretend they are Harry, Ron or Hermione, they are modeling positive qualities in themselves.
The same, I’m afraid, cannot be said of the characters in Twilight.
Bella, in the very first pages of the first book, has nothing but contempt for people who show her genuine care, affection and acceptance. She becomes infatuated with the first person who wants nothing to do with her: Edward. Edward briefly exhibits some small measure of noble self-sacrifice, removing himself from the picture because of the very real threat of his losing control and killing Bella, but then wipes it all away again when he returns because he ‘got tired of staying away’.
It goes downhill hill from there – stalking, obsession, suicide used as manipulation, must I go on?
It comes down to this: When a child — 8, 10, 12 years old — reads this and relates to the characters; when he or she begins to cast themselves in the roles of the protagonists, what sort of character are they modeling in themselves?
For me, I’ll take Hermione or Leia over Bella any day, and if no vampire ever shows his sparkly ass in my house, I’ll be a happy man.
Good question! Wish I knew the answer myself, but about the best I can do is: Away?
I suppose it’s fair to say I’ve been distracted. Maybe a little depressed. Certainly not very motivated toward writing, and even less so toward writing here.
If I were feeling pompous, I might say I’ve been busy reinventing myself. I think it would be more accurate to say that I’ve been remodeling myself. Inside, outside… I’ve done some reassessing of myself and my relationships. Moved the family home (again – oh, the joys of renting), made the trip back to the old homesteads. Renewed some treasured bonds, did some assessing of a new, and fractured landscape. (I suspect there will be a post or two about that at some point in the future.)
Through it all I’ve been thinking about this page and wondering what I can do to make it more vital, viable, and interesting – to me and to you.
See, I started the blog as a running joke. Maybe you knew that, or gathered it. I certainly hope so, anyway. But jokes get old — even the good ones! — and I don’t know that I can be certain this was a very good joke in the first place.
I’ve been trying to come up with a way to make a break from the old format and find a new one that’s appealing — again, to me and to you. Something a little more full-spectrum. Something that lets me speak to you as myself rather than through the character I started with. (Of COURSE you realized I wasn’t writing as ME.)
I never did find a way to transition smoothly. To ease you into thinking of me differently. (This assumes you think of me at all, which may, in fact, be rather a stretch.) And again, if I’m being honest, trying to find that transition was just one more way to avoid writing. Ironic, isn’t it? So I just decided to go ahead and do it; make the change; drop the persona and write as me.
And here we are. You. Me. My words and, hopefully, yours.
So: Hi! I’m Brett. And I’m a writer.
Does this mean I won’t be making anymore ‘Cat Vacuuming’ posts? Hardly. I’ve still got those in me. But it does mean that they won’t be all I write. I’ve got other things to say. More jokes to tell, thoughts to share, rants to burn. Here in the States the Presidential election is ramping up, and for me that’s always rife with humor (and anger and madness). I’ve been watching new things, and I have a few things to say about them. I’ve read a few things too, and there’s certainly something to be said about that. I’ll do my best to make them entertaining, and if I manage to make you laugh, I’ll be a happy man.
Thanks for reading. And just to make the break complete:
For Gandhi’s sake – GO WRITE
…and thus, not really as CONNECTED as I usually am. So instead of a post, you get a link to NPR’s Top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books.
What’s not on the list that you think ought to be?
I, for one, think that the Wizard of Earthsea books are conspicuously absent. Conspiracy? Could be…
My wife’s birthday is coming up. And, my New-Every-2 discount recently matured affording me a sizable discount on a new cell phone, provided I sign over my soul for another 2 year stint on the Verizon wagon.
Now we have an iPhone in the house.
It arrived by FedEx Thursday afternoon. I wrapped it and handed it over that night, and let me tell you – I know how Samwise felt giving the Ring back to Frodo that time down in Mordor.
I say that, but the thing itself is like something straight out of Neuromancer. Sleek, seemless, with those oblong steel studs on the edges. It doesn’t strike me as something that was built so much as sliced from a loaf of solid technology. The feel of it only reinforces that sense – solid and heavy. No cavities for batteries or SIMM cards concealed behind flimsy plastic plates. A glass and steel brick of pure tech.
I find that disconcerting, unpleasant, and dissatisfying. Aesthetically, it’s beautiful, but at gut level it makes me suspicious. I like being able to open things up and see what’s going on inside. I don’t buy Apple computers for precisely that reason. I can open my Dell and see the pieces. Just like I can open the hood on my truck and take a poke at the engine, or my washing machine, or my toaster. I don’t very often, but I like to have the option. I like to know that if the world ended tomorrow and my technology failed, I could open it up and have some chance (miniscule would be a generously optimistic appraisal) of finding a miraculous solution.
But Apple doesn’t give me that. Apple says I can’t even change a battery. It makes me feel like Apple doesn’t just want me to believe the iPhone is a beautiful piece of amazing technology. They want me to believe it’s actually MAGIC.
I really don’t like that.
But sweet Jesus, Mary and Joseph – I WANT ONE.
Pray for me, my pretties. Pray that I have the strength to resist its power.
Signing off from the Land of Wantin-ain’t-Gettin’,
Your Friendly Neighborhood Cat Vacuumer. And if you don’t pray for me, then at the very least…
Jen Raffensperger wrote a very nice post over at Examorata. It’s about God. And a little about Tim Minchin. And some slightly inebriated woman. It’s always nice to see smart people thinking so’s we dimwits can see how it works.
Whew! It’s a bit dusty ’round here… my cat, however, is PRISTINE.
That is… ahh: Hi! How are you? Long time no see!
How’s the family…?
Yeah, I got nothing.
Okay, well maybe not nothing. Things have been hopping around the old homestead these past few months. Plus, it’s SUMMER (But don’t tell the PNW weather… I’m hoping it’ll skip the whole 80+ degree temperatures this year. I’m quite happy with the 65-70 degrees we’ve had to this point.) and I have always had a harder time writing when the hours of darkness get down below 8 per night.
So what’s been going on with me?
How about a list:
- BOOK! But you knew that. It’s not news, nor has it taken up a lot of time, but one thing they don’t talk a lot about when they tell you about writing books is that after you’ve gone to the trouble of writing a book, worked hard to tell your story and filled up a couple hundred pages to do so, you then need to do it again, only shorter. Let’s say… one to two pages. That should be easy, right? Just take your 400 page novel and… condense it. Like soup. But don’t worry – you don’t need to include EVERYTHING. Just the important stuff. Surely your book doesn’t have more than a page or two of important stuff in it, right?This is called writing a synopsis. Synopses suck. And no, mine’s still not done.
- BURGLARY! No, I haven’t taken up a life of crime. Rather than committing burglary, I was, in fact, burgled. Someone decided my home looked like the local Best Buy, walked in, picked over the selection of laptops and walked out with the newest available. And hey – no cashier, so it must be free, right? Bastards.Yes, we called the police. No, they didn’t catch who did it. Yes, people suck (almost as much as synopses!) No, I didn’t lose my work. Yes, the laptops were replaced. Thank you, State Farm, for the LOVELY new machine. Fuck you, burglar, for making it necessary.
- MOVING! We didn’t go far – just 10 miles south of where we were before, but that’s 10 minutes closer to the ferry and 10 minutes less my lovely wife has to drive to get to and from work. Baby steps indeed. Even so, packing up 4 people’s stuff (and we have considerably more than the standard stuff allotment in this family), moving it, cleaning up after it, and then unpacking it all again? Takes me some time. And beer.
- Did I mention it’s SUMMER? That’s significant for at least three reasons: A- Kids are home. B- Days are long C- Nights are short. See, Night time is the Write time. For me, anyway. Less night? Less write. But I have done a fair bit more reading than I did in the Spring. Perhaps I’ll let you in on what I’ve been reading in a future post. If you’re good…
So maybe you thought I’d kicked the habit? Given up writing and gone on to something more … respectable? Like maybe selling live bait? Or lint collection? Or the law? (Okay, I’m clearly kidding on that last one. The only profession less respectable than writer HAS to be lawyer.) Well – no such luck! As the summer winds down, the writing bug begins to stir and one day soon my cat will look up at me with those big, sad eyes and say ‘Feed me, you prick!’
No, wait… I was thinking of the children. The cat looks up and says… Well, the cat doesn’t say anything, you know. It’s a cat. It doesn’t have the power of speech. But if it did, it would probably say, ‘Why don’t you vacuum me anymore??’
Actually, that’s not true either. It hates the vacuum. It hates me, too, as far as that goes. And it never looks me in the eye, just points its ass in my direction and kicks up its heels like I’m a giant turd it doesn’t care enough to cover.
Well, hell – that metaphor’s gone all to crap now, hasn’t it?
The point is: Hello, stranger. Nice to see you comin’ round.
What’s been going on with you?
Your Friendly Neighborhood Writer
Writing a book is a terrible idea.
You think that, once it’s done, it’ll go away. That it won’t nag at your brain day and night the way it used to. Oh, sure – you’ll need to do a few edits, maybe rewrite a chapter or three. Nothing serious, of course. A little tinkering here and there. Change a name or two, make a man a woman, put in a donkey where the ground hog used to be. You know: the usual.
You’d think that, but you’d be wrong.
No, see – once you’re done writing the book, the obsession gets worse! I know, it’s crazy!! It sits there all day, nudging your brain to keep dibs on its brain space. You print it out – hell, you wrote the damn thing, but you can’t hold a .docx file in your hands, can you? You spent all that time typing, you ought to have something to show people when they ask what the hell you’ve been doing. Maybe you even bind it, make it look pretty.
And then when they hear you’ve written a book, people want to read it. And you want them to read it, because — let’s face it — if all you wanted was to think up a cool story, you wouldn’t have spent all that time and coffee on writing it down, would you?
So you post it online somewhere. You password protect it so you retain your first publication rights because, damn it, this thing had better earn a buck or two if only to pay for the booze it’s going to take for you to forget you ever did such a foolish thing. And of course then people read it! And when people read something they always have opinions. Of course, you being a writer, your ego is enormous and about as resilient as a balloon made of toilet paper. Reading feedback is like volunteering to play Voodoo Doll for an army of psychopathic six-year-olds armed with bamboo shoots carved to fit perfectly under fingernails.
The only thing worse than reading the opinions people form regarding your book is when they have no opinion at all. Oh… that is true torture. Time goes by and you stare at the screen, waiting. How long can it take to read a book, you think. It’s only 460 pages, after all. It’s been three hours! Is it a bad sign? It can’t possibly be good… You wear out three mice clicking refresh… refresh… refresh… Your spouse bludgeons the laptop to death with an empty vodka bottle because you’ve brought it to bed again and the screen keeps her awake. You swear off shirts because each New Mail chirp from your cell phone triggers a Pavlovian response and bare skin sheds drool better than any fabric.
This, dear readers, is what writing books leads to. Take heed! Now, if you don’t mind, I need to go check my inbox, respond to Uncle Morty’s blanket accusation of artistic whoredom and mop my nipples. In the mean time, take my advice:
(Want to read my book and tell me what you think? Email me and I’ll put you on the list. Come on, puncture my ego! You know you want to…)